Monday, October 6, 2014

A Nice Case for Civic Literacy

Joseph Knippenberg of Oglethorpe University makes a good case at the Library of Law and Liberty website for civic literacy based on the idea that if you don't know how to do something, you can't do the thing. The issue is what knowledge is needed to be a self-governing citizen. Surveys suggest that the more people know about their government, how it works, its history, the arguments for and against it, the more likely they are to be engaged and active citizens. And it makes sense, because if you don't understand how our polity works, how can you participate in it?

After discussing one of the surveys which asked various questions about American history and government, Knippenberg writes that "one could question the “relevance” of these factual details for contemporary American civic life. Students might defend themselves by saying that they’ll never “use” this information. Perhaps not. In any case, if they don’t know it, they surely won’t use it, even if they need it. There’s a good argument for their needing it, and it’s this: In general, the more you know, the more active as a citizen you’re likely to be. In other words, the more you know, the more you’re likely to use what you know."

"I often contend that a liberal education is an education befitting a free human being, one who can think for himself or herself and who is as unlikely as possible to be, in effect, a “slave” to an ideology or a gull for a charlatan’s argument. Thinking for oneself, a prerequisite for this kind of human freedom, is no mere technical skill. It isn’t just about having a sharp, logical mind. It requires some content, some familiarity with the kinds of arguments people make and with the facts and narratives on the basis of which they make them. In other words, a liberal education that has as its goal self-government (in our case, “republican self-government”) requires some knowledge of the republic in which our self-governing takes place."

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